WASHINGTON — The nation’s immigration court judges are anxious and stressed by a quota system implemented by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that pushes them to close 700 cases per year to get rid of an immense backlog, the head of the judges’ union said Friday.

It means judges would have an average of about 2 1/2 hours to complete cases – an impossible ask for complicated asylum matters that can include hundreds of pages of documents and hours of testimony, Judge Ashley Tabaddor said.

“This is an unprecedented act, which compromises the integrity of the court and undermines the decisional independence of immigration judges,” she said in a speech at the National Press Club, in her capacity as head of the union. Tabaddor said the backlog of some 750,000 cases was created in part by government bureaucracy and a neglected immigration court system.

“Now, the same backlog is being used as a political tool to advance the current law enforcement policies,” she said.

Curbing immigration is a signature issue for the Trump administration and the jobs of the nation’s more than 300 immigration judges are in a continued spotlight.

They decide whether someone has a legal basis to remain in the country while the government tries to deport them, including those seeking asylum. Tabaddor presides in Los Angeles, where she oversees some 2,000 cases, including many involving juveniles.

The judges are employees of the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which is overseen by the attorney general – unlike the criminal and civil justice systems, where judges operate independently.

Immigration court judges have repeatedly asked for independence, and Tabaddor brought it up again Friday, calling the current structure a serious design flaw.

A Justice Department spokesman said the union has repeatedly tried to block common-sense reforms that would make the judges’ jobs better, and the proper home for the courts is where they are right now, under DOJ.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department sent a memo to immigration judges telling them they would need to clear at least 700 cases a year in order to receive a “satisfactory” rating on their performance evaluations. Sessions has pushed for faster rulings and issued a directive that prevents judges from administratively closing cases in an effort to decrease the backlog by 50 percent by 2020.

This month, he appointed 44 new judges, the largest class of immigration judges in U.S. history, and has pledged to hire more. He said in a speech to the judges that he wouldn’t apologize for asking them to perform “at a high level, efficiently and effectively.”

Tabaddor wouldn’t say whether the quotas were also putting pressure on judges to deport more people – not just decide cases faster.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.